Pandosearch obtains a lot of information from visible information on web pages, such as the title and the main body. This makes sense, because you want to show search results in which the requested search term is visibly present.
We also make use of invisible information in the source code. Much of this information is extracted from so-called meta tags. But what exactly are these and why are they useful?
Invisible, yet findable
A web page consists of HTML code. A piece of HTML is called a tag. The basic structure of an HTML document is as follows:
<html> <head>...</head> <body>...</body> </html>
You can see that each tag is between
> and has a start and end tag. There are normally more HTML tags where the “…” is shown. For now, it is important that there is a difference between head and body:
- head: overarching information about the web page. This includes the language in which the document is written, the location of the small icon that appears in your browser bar and the places where you can find layout information (CSS).
- body: the information on the web page. This is the content that is actually visible to visitors within the browser window, such as text, images, menus, contact forms, etc.
Meta tags are also HTML tags. They are located in the head of an HTML document. Here is an example to illustrate this:
<meta name="description" content="Description of the web page">
The “name” and “content” above are the properties of the meta tag. The name tells you what kind of meta tag it is and the content is the actual information that is important.
As meta tags are in the head, they are publicly available on the one hand (because they are part of the publicly available HTML source code that anyone can call up) and invisible on the other (because they are not part of the body, the information a human visitor normally views).
This makes meta tags highly suitable for data that may be relevant to your browser, search engines and other computer systems. Examples are things like:
- description: a brief summary of the content of the web page. Google sometimes displays this information in search results, for example.
- keywords: a list of keywords (tags) that match the content of the web page. Pandosearch includes this as searchable information by default.
The list of possible meta tags is endless. This is because everyone is free to define new meta tags themselves. Pandosearch also does this:
- We offer keymatch functionality via meta tags as standard, which customers can use to indicate the keyword for which a page should be placed at the top.
- In addition, we sometimes also agree on custom meta tags. Customers can add these to the HTML and fill them with information themselves. We read this information and add it to the data we store about the web page.
Why is this useful?
If meta tags are invisible to visitors, what exactly is the point? That is a good question, which doesn’t have a single right answer. As mentioned above, a web browser reads certain meta tags and, based on these, the web page can be displayed differently. One example is a meta tag that says something about the desired image format. A browser understands this and can adjust the text size and/or zoom the image in or out if the information in the meta tag indicates this.
This is just one example – there are many other meta tags and ways that browsers, search engines and other systems use them.
If we limit ourselves to Pandosearch, meta tags can be an important addition to the visible text on a web page. Here are some of the possibilities:
- Making invisible text findable. The “description” and “keywords” meta tags are not directly visible to users. This gives content experts the opportunity to use specific terms here that are not easy to fit into the main body, but are relevant when people use the search function.
- Categorising. Meta tags are a way of informing Pandosearch that a page belongs to a particular category. This could be a document type such as “blog”, “knowledge base” or “general”. If Pandosearch knows this, it will be possible to make further refinements within search results and/or to limit your search to a specific document type. You can do the same for product groups, languages, departments, you name it. Meta tags offer a way to inform Pandosearch of this without having to change the visible content of your web pages.
- Putting a page at the top of the search results. As previously mentioned in the article, Pandosearch offers the keymatch function to force a page to appear at the top of the results, given a certain search term. This works via the “keymatch” meta tag.
There are many other possibilities, some of which are very technical. It would go too far to name them all here.
We would, however, like to conclude with the following. Meta tags have been around for a long time and are widely known as a basic part of HTML source code. This means they are easy to add and modify in many website management systems (Wordpress, Sitecore, Umbraco, etc.). This makes it an accessible way for our customers to enrich web pages with meta-information, without having to buy extra software and/or make changes to their website that are visible to visitors.
That is some general information about meta tags. If you have specific questions about the meta tags in your Pandosearch implementation, please contact one of our support channels and we will be happy to help you.